by Thomas Valentine
After months of speculation, former Vice President Joe Biden has finally jumped into the presidential race. It’s early, but Biden leads the polls by a huge margin. The RealClearPolitics average of Democrat primary polls has him with a 13-point lead over the dozen-plus other candidates in the race.
Biden also outperforms the rest of the field in hypothetical general election polls against President Trump. While most hypothetical national polls pitting Trump against the Democrat field show Trump with a lead of a few points, the RCP average of national Biden vs. Trump polls shows Biden with a staggering 8-point lead.
Again, it’s early. Today’s political climate is certainly different from what it will be in November 2020. But it’s clear that Biden would be Trump’s most formidable opponent. The question is whether he can get through the Democrat primary.
The Democratic Party is moving to the left at breakneck speed. Positions held by Democrats five or ten years ago are untenable, and even basic appeals to American exceptionalism espoused by Democrats for decades are now offensive to the loudest Democrats.
But how many Democrats actually belong to the far left bleeding edge of the party? Are working-class Democrats in rural Pennsylvania really supporters of open borders and unrestricted abortion the same way that Twitter activists in Brooklyn are?
Joe Biden has to walk a tightrope between these two groups. Move too far left, and he loses his base. Refuse to move left, and the activist base won’t come out to support him. How he will choose to manage this balancing act in the coming months remains to be seen.
For right now, it can be argued that Joe Biden is only leading the polls because he has the highest name recognition. He was vice president for eight years, and ran for president twice before, so his name recognition is close to 100 percent, unlike the unknowns such as Amy Klobuchar and Julian Castro. Remember that Jeb Bush had the highest name recognition in 2015 and held similar leads in the polls until people started paying closer attention.
It’s possible that as voters see more of the other candidates and the debates begin, Biden will fade. He will still be at the top of the pack but will face serious competition, and Democrats may ultimately decide to go in a different direction than what the 76-year-old Biden is offering.
Or Biden could face a scenario like Mitt Romney faced in 2012. Romney was essentially the de facto leader of the 2012 Republican primary pack, and a rotating cast of candidates sought to take him on. One candidate, like Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain, would rise to overtake him in the polls, only to fade as Romney regained the lead as the “inevitable” nominee. Eventually it dwindled down to a two-man race between Romney and Rick Santorum, who won 11 states but was unable to overcome Romney’s money advantage. Biden could win just based on a similar aura of inevitability that boosted Romney in 2012.
Biden could also benefit from the splintered field that gave Trump the Republican nomination. Remember that Trump never had more than 30-35 percent in the primary polls, and a strong majority of Republican primary voters turned out against him. But the anti-Trump vote was so splintered that he was able to rise to the top. The conservative wing of the party waited until it was too late to consolidate around Ted Cruz as the only one to beat Trump, while the stubborn establishment wing that could not bring itself to support either candidate gave Trump the nomination by backing John Kasich as a spoiler. Liberal activists could split between the socialist Bernie Sanders and the identity politics warrior Elizabeth Warren, allowing Biden to capture the mainstream plurality.
Or something completely unpredictable could happen — because it’s 2019, and that’s the era we’re in right now. It’s going to be fascinating to watch the race develop.
Photo credit: Walt Disney Television via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0